This article was originally published in the June/July ’89 issue of the SCRAM Safe Energy Journal.
Torness was officially opened on Saturday 13 May, by the Prime Minister herself. PETE ROCHE examines Britain’s newest nuclear nightmare.
Lorry loads of blue carpet tiles and a sea of blue draping were imported to transform the SSEB’s £1 million celebration into the final, blue stained, V-sign to all those local people who have opposed the station for the last decade and a half.
Local MP, John Home Robertson (Lab), denounced the opening as “pseudo-royal … an absurd demonstration of the SSEB’s sycophancy.”
The public have always been against the construction of a nuclear power station at Torness point:
- A System Three Poll published in November ’78 showed a majority of the people living in Lothian Region opposed to Torness.
- In May 1979 10,000 people demonstrated at the site.
- Again in 1979 a poll conducted of its readers by the East Lothian Courier showed 90% opposi tion to the station.
- In 1987 a System Three Poll concluded “The majority of respondents (53%) believed that Torness should not start operation, 32% wanted it dismantled and 21 % mothballed.”
At the Torness public inquiry, which lasted just 9 days in the summer of ’74, the SSEB based their case on their estimate that electricity demand would grow by 6% every year until the end of the century. The demand in 1987/88 was 21,123 million units compared with 19,220 million units in 1973/74 – a total increase of only 9.9% over 14 years. Adding insult to in jury Scotland’s second newest power station the 2000MW, Inverkip, oil fired station “was placed on a care and maintenance regime from April 1987”.
What will happen to Scotland’s, now, ludicrous overcapacity? Donald Miller, SSEB chair, says “We had always anticipated when we built Torness – and I remember going through this with the government at the time – that we would be allowed to export power.” He is hoping to double Scotland’s export capacity to 1,600MW. The £ 70 million required for new transmission lines may be postponed because of uncertainty over the Government’s non-fossil statutory obligation in England and Wales.
The SSEB claimed that the new power station would “provide job opportunities both during and after construction and give a continuing boost to the economy of the area.” Granted, at the height of construction it employed about 6,000 people. Most of whom where brought into the area and have since moved on. These jobs were temporary.
The employment effect of nuclear generation is two-fold: it is a highly capital intensive industry clearly shown by the 9.5% decrease in the number of SSEB employees over the last ten years (from 13,632 in 1978 to 12,339 in 1987) compared with a 320% increase in fixed assets per employee (from £49,039 to £ 207,744); the knock-on effect of opening Torness posses an immediate threat to the jobs of people working at Cockenzie power station and the Monktonhall and Bilston Glen pits. The two mines employed 4,000 miners in 1982, by the ti me British Coal formally announced their closure this figure had been reduced to 700. Nliners at Bilston Glen have already accepted the closure, for fear of losing redundancy money, but miners at Monktonhall are hoping to appeal.
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have shown that the threat posed by nuclear power stations is global. Yet the Government refuse to extend the evacuation zone, in case of. a ma j or accident at Torness, from 3km to 10km, as requested by Lothian Regional Council. At the time of Chernobyl the 30,000 inhabitants of Gomel, 125km from the station, had to be evacuated. Dunbar is outside the evacuation zone. Can the citizens of Dunbar really be expected to stay put when villagers from Innerwick are evacuated to Dunbar? Miller believes “Nuclear power is the safest source of any kind of energy, bar none.”
There is massive public opposition to the Government’s plans to dump radioactive waste, in a hole in the ground. Whenever prospective sites have been named in the past public opinion has forced the Government to drop their plans. Yet still they continue to produce it, with no adequate method of disposal, even for low and intermediate waste.
Torness is planned to have a thirty year operating life, during which time it will generate electricity by ‘burning’ uranium. Spent fuel rods will be removed from the reactor and flasks, each containing 20 spent fuel elements, will be sent to Sellafield by rail – “roughly one flask every ten days”. The route is from Torness via Edinburgh-Carstairs Carlisle to Sellafield. There is great concern among local authorities and the public about transport of spent fuel through their communities.
At the time of the ‘Skateraw’ public inquiry into the SSEB’s application to build a nuclear flask railhead at Torness, it was estimated that 975 long-term cancer deaths would result from a 10% release of radioactivity, caused by a terrorist attack on a flask in the Niddrie area of Edinburgh. With flask movements. due to begin towards the end of this year, communities along the rail route are starting to worry.
Miller is deluding himself if he be lieves, “There is no significant opposition to this station anywhere in this area.” It is a project that has been forced through, against the wishes of local people by heavy handed tactics. From the very beginning of construction, Tuesday 14 November 1978, when Half Moon Cottage was bulldozed into the sea, to the official openning, when Pamela Banks was fined £100 for throwing herself in front of the Prime Minister’s motorcade, this has been a depressing story of bureaucratic intransigence.